Thursday, May 11, 2006

Green men, scooters and dumplings

A city like Taipei is too complex to be "grasped" after just one day. For now, I am happy just noticing little things.

The little green man, for example. At pedestrian crossings, the "walk" signal is, like in most places, a green image of a man. Except that here the image is animated: the little green man walks. What is most entertaining, however, is that when the time is almost up, the image starts flashing (again, like almost everywhere else), and the little green man starts running.

Unlike in Beijing, here they allow portly guys to be security guards. This gentleman, for example, works at the CKS memorial, one of the most important sites in the city.

Like in Rome, scooters are the preferred veichle of transportation here. At rush hour, swarms of scooters engulf the comparatively fewer cars and own the road. Away from rush hour, one sees parked scooters everywhere, in designated parking slots along the streets but also on sidewalks, when space allows. In the picture below, Unidentified Motorist with Red Helmet blocks the view a bit, but it's actually all scooters till the eye can see. (Click on the picture for larger view.)

Unlike in Rome, however, scooters respect traffic law. This means that neither crossing the street as a pedestrian nor riding a scooter as a passenger of a local are death-defying experiences.

Many scooter drivers wear masks (mask as in surgical mask, not Halloween mask) presumably to protect against pollution. In such a style-conscious country, it is unavoidable that a market for designer masks would arise. I have seen women wearing masks with the Burberry's pattern, and even one woman wearing a leopard-dotted jacket and having a matching mask with the same leopard-dots pattern. (By the way, men wear fancy masks too.)

On the important subject of food, yesterday I had street food for the whole day.

For breakfast I had some kind of fried dough wrapped in a flat bread, a bread sandwich, if you will (I didn't do it, but, for best results, you should say "Mmh, fried dough" in the voice of Homer Simpson when you eat it) and an omelette thing also wrapped in flat bread.

Of the various small things we ate for lunch, the dumplings were the highlight. There are, in fact, a few different Chinese terms that all translate into "dumpling" but that are considered to be very different food items. As I was pondering this excessive linguistic specialization, I was told "In Italy, you have dumplings too." "No, no," I had to explain, "not dumplings, we have ravioli that are made from two distinct sheets of dough, you put the fillings on the bottom sheet and then press the other sheet on top. Then there are tortellini, where you use a single sheet of dough and wrap it around the filling. Then there are agnolotti, then ..."

Taipei is a city that does not go to bed early. Lots of people are around in the street on weekdays well past midnight, and, among the many things to do at night, there is a visit to a "night market." Night markets are big outdoor collections of small booths selling various things, mostly clothes and food. They run along small alleys, with booths on either side, and sometimes clothes vendor laying out stuff in the middle, so that one feels very cramped. I mean cramped in a good "look how much is going on all around me" way, not in a bad "will people stop bumping into me" way. Perhaps on weekends it turns into the bad way, I will have to see.

The food at the stalls was better to look at when it was prepared than to eat, but it was not bad. I am just partial to squid: this is before being cooked:

and then while being cooked:


  1. Anonymous Anonymous
    5/12/2006 06:52:00 AM

    Is it squid in general that you don't like or did you have objections to this particular squid? It looks very tasty in the picture.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous
    5/12/2006 07:53:00 AM

    Why are you in Taiwan? For vacation or for a conference/visit to the university?

  3. Blogger Luca
    5/12/2006 07:57:00 AM

    I like squid a lot, especially when grilled. In this particular case it was not too good.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous
    5/14/2006 08:19:00 PM

    I was just in Kuala Lumpur and laughed at the same Green Man thing there.


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